In sports anything can happen, and the NWSL is no different. Adversity quickly became a reality for the Seattle Reign during their inaugural season.
Reign captain Keelin Winters knows a bit about overcoming adversity after playing on a Reign team that went winless through their first 11 games last season.
The 2013 season began with the NWSL Allocation. The Seattle Reign were awarded seven allocated players. Three were from the US Women’s National team; forward Amy Rodriguez, goalkeeper Hope Solo and midfielder Megan Rapinoe.
The first hurdle came on Jan. 29 when it was announced that forward Amy Rodriguez was pregnant and out for the season. The loss of Rodriguez meant losing a goal scoring prowess who tallied 26 goals in 100 caps for the national team.
Later that same month, winger Megan Rapinoe committed to French team Olympique Lyonnias. Joining Lyon meant Rapinoe wouldn’t be able to return to Seattle until the French club finished their season half way through the NWSL season.
A month before the season started, the Reign completed the first trade in NWSL history acquiring Winters from the Chicago Red Stars. In exchange for Winters, the Reign gave Chicago a first-round pick in 2014 NWSL College Draft, along with a future allocated player.
Seven days after the Winters trade, the Reign were hit with yet another huge blow.
Goalkeeper Hope Solo’s time table to return from wrist surgery was lengthened from the initial recovery time of 6-8 weeks to 3-4 months. It kept the US keeper out until midway through the season.
“If that isn’t a team facing adversity then I don’t know what is,” said Winters.
Winters arrived in Seattle and joined a team without any of its United States allocation. The circumstances impacted her expectations to an extent.
“Yes and no. Yes, because obviously the absence of three national team players is a big deal,” Winters said. “They add quality on the field that you can’t really replicate. No, because I wanted to do well regardless of who is on the field. I went into the season with high hopes and high expectations.”
Entering the season Seattle was the second youngest team in the league, with an average age of 24.5 years-old on the opening day rosters. Being young and being without three allocated veteran leaders contributed to the Reign’s slow start.
Just a month into their inaugural season, Seattle was at the bottom of the league with a 0-7-1 record.
After opening the season with a 1-1 tie against the Chicago Red Stars and Jessica Fishlock being named NWSL Week 2 Player of the Week, Seattle wouldn’t see success for nearly 3 months.
The low point for the Reign came after falling to Sky Blue FC in Week 5. Seattle was outshot 23 to 6, Sky Blue Keeper Brittany Cameron was forced to make one save and the Reign finished on the losing end of a 2-0 result.
“After the May 11th away game against Sky Blue, I know that I personally felt demoralized and embarrassed. I think the whole team did,” Winters said. “It was a horrendous team performance and obviously after a game like that the atmosphere within the team was not a good one. The next week at practice though we all agreed to never let something like that performance happen again and we had a better week of practice and better overall atmosphere.”
Three months after her wrist surgery, Solo made her Reign debut against rival Portland Thorns FC on May 25. Her return brought about an impressive performance. However, an 83rd minute penalty kick goal netted by Thorns forward Christine Sinclair was the decider.
Solo’s return brought a positive impact to the team.
”When you have the best GK in the world in goal for your team it gives you a huge confidence boost,” said Winters. “She wasn’t at 100% when she made her debut but even then she’s better than most GKs.”
Throughout the losing streak there was a constant mainstay of optimism, leadership and positivity with Reign head coach Laura Harvey. Harvey brought experience to the young Seattle team. As a coach, she previously won 2 FA Women’s Super League championships with Arsenal LFC before joining Seattle.
“Laura never ceased to be positive and never changed her coaching style,” Winters said. “We always tried to put the ball down and play. She kept saying that if we get the details right tactically and technically then things will fall into place for us.”
Eleven games into the NWSL season, Megan Rapinoe wrapped up her commitment with Lyon and returned to the Reign.
With the return of Rapinoe, Seattle had a full contingent of U.S allocated players up against the Western New York Flash.
Seattle took an early lead in the game and looked to capture their first win with a 28th minute a strike from Winters. However, the Flash battled back and tied the game in the 55th minute with an Abby Wambach penalty kick goal. Halfway through their season, Seattle Reign FC were still without a win.
The Turning Point
It was inevitable that the Reign would eventually get a win. They were too strong willed and talented not to. It was a process, however, that took 12 games to complete.
“Our first win against Boston qualifies as a ‘turning point.’ We were 0-9-2 and we all desperately needed a win,” Winters said. “I don’t think I’ll ever take winning for granted again after that start to the season. I’ve never been on a losing team before so it was a tough experience. To win like we did–come from behind, in Boston, long road trip–kind of showed our character as a team.”
For the Reign, getting their first win meant more than the average team.
“We celebrated like we had won more than just one game… like we had just won a playoff game or something,” Winters said. “But we fought really, really hard for that win. It was in Boston and we went down 1-0. We ended up coming back to win 2-1. When we went down a goal we all just refused to give up.”
As a team they learned a lesson from the 12 game winless streak.”I don’t think any of us will take winning for granted again! People always say you learn more from your losses than your victories,” Winters said. “So I’d say we learned quite a bit about ourselves as players and ourselves as competitive athletes.”